In the spring of 2018 School of Dance students gathered in a dark theater listening to the heavy beat of club music and watching projections fill screens tethered to the ceiling. There were no chairs and participants were encouraged to move about the space and take in the dancers, music, and projections from any angle they chose. This was a work in progress showing and Philadelphia-based artist jumatatu m. poe was sharing his creative process with students, faculty, and community as he wrapped up his two-week MANCC residency.
FSU Alum in American Dance Studies and current PhD Student in Dance Studies at The Ohio State University, Emily Kaniuka, remembers the showing and its impact on students,
“The opportunity to experience in poe’s creative process in such intimate proximity not only inspired me as an artist, but also profoundly influenced my perspective on my research. As a scholar of social dance, seeing poe’s innovative use of club aesthetics and J-Sette vocabulary in a black box setting gave me a new understanding of how lights, music, and shared embodiment create a sense of belonging.”
On December 14, the “Academy Awards” of the dance field, the “Bessies” took place, and poe was honored as a nominee for the work he shared with students. “Let ‘im Move You: This Is a Formation” was developed in collaboration with Jermone “Donte” Beacham and draws from J-Sette, a dance form with origins in southern drill teams and made popular on majorette lines at historically Black universities. While in residence poe met with members of the FAMU Diamond Dance team, which practices J-Sette, and attended their Homecoming Weekend performances. Learn more about the work and residency here: https://mancc.org/artists/jumatatu-poe/.
Other MANCC artists who were honored at The Bessies for works created outside of MANCC included Monica Bill Barnes, Yanira Castro, Annie B-Parson, and current MANCC/Urban Bush Women partnership artist nia love.
The Bessies were established in 1984 by David R. White at Dance Theater Workshop and named in honor of renowned dance teacher Bessie Schönberg. These awards highlight exceptional work across the dance field in choreography, performance, music composition, production, and visual design as well as in service to the field. Nominees for these notable awards are put forth by the Bessies selection committees, which are made up of artists, presenters, producers, and writers, with the winners selected by the full membership of the committees.
This year’s ceremony acknowledged the impact of COVID-19 on the dance community and how organizations and individuals came together in the spirit of mutual support. In response, all of this year’s nominated artists were honored with showings of featured video footage from their works. A special tribute to the often unsung but essential members of the community who are central to the process of bringing live and online dance and performance to audiences in New York City took place and the honorees for Lifetime Achievement, Service to the Field of Dance, and Special Citation were also announced at the ceremony. The 2020 Bessies ceremony took place virtually, making it a great opportunity for dance enthusiasts across the country to tune in for as little as $1.03.
MANCC sends its congratulations to all nominees for the 2020 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” awards!